Book 9 Summary and Analysis
Polyphemus: a Cyclops who devours Odysseus’ men
Odysseus reveals his identity to the Phaeaceans, and then begins recounting his tales from the time of his departure from Troy. Sailing to the northwest along the coast of the Aegean Sea Odysseus and his fleet of twelve ships raided the Ciconian people, taking much booty and plunder. However, despite Odysseus’ entreaties for his men to take to sea, his men did not obey him. The coastal Ciconians summoned their inland brothers, who came and waged a fierce battle against Odysseus’ men, a struggle which eventually turned against the raiding Greeks. Odysseus lost over seventy men before reaching his ships and taking off once more to sea.
While sailing around the southern tip of Greece on the way to Ithaca, which lies to the northwest, Odysseus’ fleet met a terrible storm, which blew them off course for nine days. They reached the land of the Lotus-Eaters, who offered three of Odysseus’ men some of their lotus plant to eat. The men complied, but immediately refused to leave their new locale because of the lotus flowers’ enchantment. Odysseus dragged his wailing men back to the ships, and they again moved out to sea.
They came next to the land of the lawless Cyclopes, who lived solitary existences in cavernous dwellings. Odysseus’ twelve ships beached themselves on an island not far from the mainland of the Cyclopes. Odysseus took his personal vessel alone to explore, and left his companions’ vessels behind to await his return. Sailing around the island, Odysseus found the cave of the mighty Polyphemus. He chose twelve companions from his ship to accompany him, and went ashore to explore the cave. Inside, they found the master of the cave away, although there were many sheep and goats locked up in pens inside the cave. A tall, fenced-in yard enclosed an area immediately outside the cave.
Odysseus’ men advised him to steal the cheese and livestock, and then to escape as quickly as possible. Odysseus, however, was eager to receive a gift from this mighty host, and so they waited for the Cyclops’ arrival. When the enormous Polyphemus did arrive home from pasturing his flock, Odysseus and his men fled from the awesome sight of him. The Cyclops then rolled an enormous boulder across the entrance to his cave, one so heavy that all of Odysseus’ men together could never budge it. After milking his goats and sheep, Polyphemus greeted his guests. Odysseus boldly requested a present from this hulk, demanding the rights due to strangers by Zeus’s decree.
Scorning the gods, Polyphemus grasped two of Odysseus’ men and slammed their heads against the ground. He then proceeded to eat them whole. When the brute had finished his feast and was in the midst of taking a nap, Odysseus planned to kill him, but reconsidered when he remembered the immovable boulder.
When the Cyclops awakened in the morning, he ate two more men before taking his sheep to pasture, leaving the dreaded boulder behind to block the exit. Odysseus hatched a plan, and went across the cave to where Polyphemus kept a felled olive tree. Odysseus and his men fashioned a long spike out of this, and hid it before the Cyclops returned home. When Polyphemus returned to his lair, he slew and devoured yet two more of Odysseus’ men. After the monster had finished his grisly meal, Odysseus offered him a drink of wine from a silver mixing bowl. Odysseus had received this wine, which was unbelievably potent, from a Ciconian priest of Apollo whose life he had spared. One would normally dilute this wine in 95 percent water before drinking it. Now, Odysseus offered it unmixed to the mighty giant, who drank several draughts of it before collapsing in a drunken stupor. However, before he had finished his drinking, Polyphemus had asked Odysseus to tell him his name; the clever adventurer responded that his name was “Nobody.”
With the Cyclops unconscious, Odysseus and four of his men grabbed the wooden spike...
(The entire section is 1,441 words.)